The National Service dilemma: what happens when PRs want to skip it?

Graduating from high school this week? Welcome to NS! At the age of 18, if you are a Singaporean citizen or a permanent resident you are required to register for the National Service unless you have been deferred for your enlistment date to finish secondary level education or polytechnic courses.

Enlistees getting ready to begin the National Service with a haircut.

Under the Enlistment Act, every male Singaporean citizen and second-generation permanent resident is required to serve a two-year period as a full-time National Serviceman (NSFs). One can fulfil their service either in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Singapore Police Force (SPF), or the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

A complete exemption from the National Service is very rare because of the tightened policies over the years to avoid possible draft evaders. Those who are completely exempted from NS usually have permanent disability or severe medical conditions which would have to be examined by the Singapore Armed Force Medical board before being declared unfit.

For many, NS is looked upon as a “waste of time” as the world is hiring many young people. This means as a full-time National Serviceman, the two years set you back from college or pursuing your talents and furthering your strengths and some consider it a crucial disadvantage in the long run.

Members of the Singapore Armed Force during a march.

Former SAS student and Section Commander in the Civil Defence Force, Farees Choudhury, said, “I was very upset that I had to serve for two years because I wanted to apply to college and go straight after graduation just like everyone else, and because of this I wanted the easiest possible job in NS, one that would give me the most free time. Although I would much rather be furthering my studies in university, I’m loving National Service so far. And my mentality of taking the easy way out has completely changed as I strived to get to the section commander course. I want to make the best of my NS years and just do my best, but I still understand that NS is just the government’s smart way of making men do labor for the minimum wage, so I still try not to take NS so seriously to the point where I’m going to sign on, because I’m not going to sign on for sure.”

Because of severe punishments, almost all citizens who are medically cleared to do NS end up completing their term. If a Singaporean citizen is caught defaulting National Service, they are subject to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or a jail term not exceeding three years or both. Also, they are made to serve National Service after completing the jail term and/or paying off the fine.

A senior at SAS and an outsider to National Service, Mitchel Fernandez said, “I agree that Singapore should require NS. They are a small country with little to no military culture, and without requiring men to serve, I doubt anyone would voluntarily sign up. Also, NS is one of the main things Singapore has to contribute to national unity, and without it the Singaporean people would only drift further apart.”

It makes sense for Singapore nationals to participate in NS, but should residents face the same requirement?

A teacher at SAS and a former serviceman at the Singapore Police Force said, “I think it should be optional for the PR’s because we have enough manpower with the number of citizens in the National Service. Also, the PR kids are not from Singapore so they should not have to serve a nation they are not even from and instead be given the option to move abroad and further their studies or carry on with their own plans.”

A retired commando of the Singapore Armed Force said, “The government in Singapore requires Permanent Residents to serve in the National Service because they get so many benefits and incentives just like the Singaporeans do. Because of how much is given to the PRs, they feel like PRs have an equal obligation as the citizens to serve our nation so that we can be protected if anything were to happen to Singapore.”

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 11.06.13 PM
Former SAS student, Farees Choudhury putting out a fire during training in the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

While the government has one view upon the requirement of Permanent Residents to do National Service, many Permanent Residents have a contrasting opinion regarding the conscription. There are fewer consequences for a permanent resident to cancel their PR status and avoid their service. Between 2006 and 2011, about 8,800 males who had become permanent residents under the sponsorship of their parents were enlisted for and served National Service. On the other hand, 4,200 males who had become permanent residents under the sponsorship of their parents renounced their PR status prior to serving National Service. Their failure to serve NS will be taken into account should they attempt to apply to return to Singapore to study or work.

A sophomore student from SAS said, “I am not planning on doing NS in the future. I would not want to do it because I will start college three years after after my peers who don’t do the National Service. I think that life is too short, and missing out on three years to serve a country I am not even from would be a waste of my time.”

There is a lot of controversy regarding whether permanent residents should have to serve along with the Singaporean citizens in the National Service. Some agree to Singapore’s law and others do not. But for now, Singapore still requires both Permanent Residents and citizens to serve.

Author: Stefan Kingsley

Stefan Kingsley is a Senior and a Reporter for The Eye. This is his first year on staff and sixth year at SAS. He is originally from Chennai, India but has lived in Singapore for the past 14 years. In his free time, Stefan enjoys playing tennis and running at the track.

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